The Gauteng Department of Health has confirmed the arrest of Dr. Matthew Lani, a notorious fake TikTok doctor who had eluded authorities for several weeks.
In an official statement, the department disclosed that Lani was apprehended at the main entrance of Helen Joseph Hospital in Johannesburg around 8:00 p.m. on Sunday, October 29, 2023. Despite his attempt to evade capture by wearing a hoodie, surgical mask, and stethoscope as a disguise, hospital security cornered him.
However, his escape attempt did not succeed. Lani, under the pretense of needing the restroom, tried to flee by jumping through a window. Hospital security called for reinforcements, and he was apprehended once more before being handed over to the police for an official arrest.
Previously, Dr. Matthew Lani had used the same hospital as a backdrop for misleading videos in which he offered medical advice while impersonating a qualified medical doctor. His online persona had gained nearly 300,000 followers and three million likes over several months.
Suspicions about his qualifications and advice had arisen approximately three weeks ago, prompting the Health Professionals Council of South Africa (HPCSA) to confirm that Lani was not a registered health practitioner. They also stressed that practicing without a valid license was a criminal offense.
On October 9, 2023, the University of Witwatersrand (Wits) disputed claims on Lani’s LinkedIn profile, which stated that he had studied medicine (MBBS) at the institution from 2014 to 2021. The university clarified that they only offered an MBBCh program, which, while technically similar degrees, had different names depending on the institution.
In response to these revelations, the Gauteng Department of Health initiated a criminal case against Lani, and TikTok banned his account. The Gauteng Department of Education also confirmed that Lani lacked a matric certificate and had been referred to a Special Needs School back in 2010.
One of the most controversial moments in Lani’s online presence involved a video in which he claimed that a group of individuals had been hospitalized at Helen Joseph Hospital due to the consumption of a weight-loss pill. This led to an investigation by the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority in August, but no confirmation of such an incident was found.
Lani now faces charges of practicing without a license and using the identity of a second-year medical intern at Tembisa Provincial Hospital to gain unauthorized access to medical facilities.
Impact of Deceptive Online Advice
In today’s digital age, the recent arrest of the false TikTok doctor, “Dr. Matthew Lani,” underscores the critical importance of cooperation between government agencies and tech companies.
This partnership is vital in addressing deceptive practices and proactively preventing similar incidents in the future.
Government and Tech Firms Combating Online Health Misinformation
Online platforms, including social media, have become fertile grounds for the spread of health misinformation. The ease of access and the ability to reach a wide audience makes these platforms attractive to individuals looking to deceive, as seen in the case of Dr. Lani.
The collaboration between government agencies and tech companies is a comprehensive strategy. Government bodies, such as the Health Professionals Council of South Africa (HPCSA), have the authority to enforce regulations on medical qualifications and healthcare information. Their cooperation with tech companies ensures that these regulations extend to the digital realm.
Tech companies, on their part, bear the responsibility of implementing algorithms, reporting tools, and content moderation systems that can identify and remove deceptive health-related content. Furthermore, they can share data and insights with authorities regarding suspicious accounts.
To prevent the recurrence of similar incidents, government agencies and tech companies can work together on various fronts. These efforts include mechanisms for users to verify their credentials, especially those offering health advice, and the establishment of accessible means for users to report suspicious or misleading content.
Open communication between tech companies and government agencies facilitates the identification and resolution of deceptive practices, and it can lead to updated regulations that address evolving challenges in the digital age, such as deceptive health advice on social media.